Wednesday, August 31, 2011

No tips at all

I wanted to say, it just feels so damn good to be running again. I went out for a 45 quicky today and it just felt like flying. It made my day. I love those runs, the ones that clear my mind and center me for the ten million things I have to get done.

That's the best part about it, stripping down, taking off my shoes, walking out the door into a drizzling cool beautiful day and just moving my body and thinking.

I've been practicing nose breathing as I'm a panter. I try not to open my mouth all day except to speak, laugh, and eat. The rest of the time all nose, and that means running too. My 5k last Sun was pretty good for me. Part of that I chalk up to the fact that I've been running often enough to know how hard to push myself and when. The other thing I realized was that I just wasn't as winded at the faster speed.

I can write an article later about breathing and tips and technical stuff. I just want to reiterate. Running is fun as hell! I used to hate it so much and now it's just a great part of my day. If you're having a hard time running relax, slow down, don't worry about your form, worry about relaxing and enjoying what you are doing at that moment. Slow down until you are comfortable, worry about weight loss, calories, form, technique, later.

Find a way to relax and the rest will follow.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Training plans and Chitown hustlers.

I've been using the free Chicago marathon training plan from iRunnerblog. It's a great paired down plan with 4 running days and a cross training day per week. The basics are covered: pace training, speed training, long run, but as training plans go it's pretty spare.

I like it that way as I'm not trying to qualify for anything on this one, just going to finish feeling good. If my 18 mile this last Saturday is any indication I think I'll be fine. It looks like I'm in the 4.25 hour range, which is pretty slow, but it's my first and I'm mostly elated that I'm not injured right now, so I'm taking it easy on the foot to make sure.

I've been wondering about training plans in general as I had to take 2 weeks off for my foot, and was still able to jump right back in to the schedule on Sat. It seems that many people take them as guidelines and adapt them as they need to. Of course, that's par for the course but how important is it to keep close to a plan like this?

The answer is what you'd expect. Life is going to interfere with a rigid schedule and you're going to have to account for that. I asked Jason Robillard this exact question on Sun. He answered what I thought he might: running schedules are important but it's more important to listen to your body and do what feels right. You push when you have it in you to push, but if something isn't right it's equally important to take time to keep a short term injury from becoming a chronic problem.

The guys at IRunnerblog are pretty great when it comes to answering questions. I asked them what to do when I started feeling my foot acting up. They said take it easy, take care of foot, cross train, make up for lost time when everything is in working order. The injury slowed me down and my pace will not be what I hoped it would. on the other hand slowing down kept me running, and I won't be selling my spot in the Chicago. That's good news in my book.

Hope I'm going to see some of my Chitown homies out there on the course cheering for the barefoot fool that should know better.


Monday, August 29, 2011

Barefoot 5k in Grand Rapids and the bunch of happy wierdos there

This past Sunday was the Merrell Barefoot 5k in Grand Rapids. There was also a kids 1k and a 1 mile. My kids both ran the 1k, and I was super proud of them for hustling their little butts. Malina came in 4th. She's 6 and the kids ahead of her were 8-11, so she really hung in there. Kasper was further back but again it was the same group and he machined it. My lovely wife came even though she wasn't feeling well and took care of all of us.

The 5k was a nice mixture of some serious runners and the rest of us. It's always a pleasure to see the serious runners just gunning it to the finish. What I heard many people saying was that it was the first time they'd spent much time with a group of barefooters. Most of the time we're the ones getting the strange looks. It was fun to spend some time with a bunch of like minded wierdos.

This was a super fun event. It was in a beautiful park in GR. I have to say I much prefer to do my running on something harder than soft grass. It's just too easy for things to hide in the dog pile I stepped in at one point. It was right in the middle of the warm up group and I watched a bunch of people step right in it. I didn't say anything as it all got wiped off during the race anyway, but I guess the point is, I like pavement and hard trails.

It's not just what I can or can't see that makes me like the harder surfaces. It also forces you to be ultra aware of your impact as you run. It's easy in grass, like it is in padded shoes, to just stomp your way along. As soon as I hit something harder, my body goes into ultra light mode, my steps go silent, my cadence goes up and everything just feels smoother. It's what I love about barefoot in general, the sense that I'm really responsive to the ground, not protected from it.

The folks at the race were great. From the Barefoot Running Society we had our chapter president Troy Root who was a serious trooper, pushing his kids through all that grass in a stroller. Way to go Troy! I met a guy named John who has made a shot at a 100 miler and stopped at 70. In my book that means he successfully ran a 70 mile ultra. Scot Hadley was there. He's the physical therapist I've written about who got me back on my feet when I had some injury trouble a few weeks back.

I got to meet Ken Bob Saxton and Jason Robillard who are both important to the barefoot/minimalist movement. They've both written books on the subject and are great resources to the community, as well as great guys. Jason has a blog that has been extremely helpful: Barefoot Running University. It's an excellent source of info and discussion.

Over all it was a great time, for the time spent with interesting and fun people, for the run itself and for the time with my family. I ran a pretty good time and kind of felt charged up about getting the Michigan chapter of the Barefoot Running Society more active. Malina, my daughter told me she can't wait for the next one. I can't either!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Psychic pain and 18 mile runs

I did my 18 mile long run today. It's the first time I've run that distance and while I wasn't worried, my last two long run attempts have ended pretty badly due to my foot problems. This one was stellar.

I ran a 3 leafed clover with 6 mile loops and my house in the center. I'd go out for 6 miles, stop in the house to fill my water bottle and head back out. It worked pretty well and I felt great most of the time. I was getting a little fried by the end but I haven't run over 6 miles in 3 weeks so that's to be expected. This is total success.

I'm happy to say I think I'm back at it due to uncharacteristically meticulous self care. I've been stretching and rolling all of the relevant muscle groups, taking ice baths regularly and otherwise channeling purity of every kind. My legs felt loose and ready to take the beating this morning and they're not in bad shape now. Hopefully they won't be too sore tomorrow as I'm running the Bare Foot 5k in Grand Rapids tomorrow. heh.

Self care...
not one of my specialties.

The people who really impress me in this life are the ones that are pursuing something, anything. I'm interested in the passion and intensity. You know, it doesn't even have to be a pursuit but something you pour your energy into, something that draws you in almost without your control. Artists are this way. They can't necessarily tell you why they do something or where it comes from, but they can't live without it.

A smart and strange friend once told me that artists are expressing their derangement and estrangement from normality. I don't know if that's quite the way I'd put it but if it takes a little psychic damage to create an artist or a maniacal athlete, I'll take it.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Good word from a buddy, and more running tips

So I just had a long talk with a good buddy of mine. He went to a good form running workshop at a local running store, Playmakers (amazing place), got some form tips and realized that one of the reasons he hates running is that he was making it harder than it ought to be. This is one of the things I want to help hammer home here. That alliteration is effective and that running is relaxing.

Running is a natural thing for you to be doing and your body is really good at it. It's all about form and philosophy.

The right form in my opinion is anything that makes your running feel easier, lighter, less burdensome, more uplifting. Things that have helped me accomplish this include

Finding ever more ways to relax.
1. Peel your feet off the ground rather than pushing off of them. Never push off of
your back foot unless you're sprinting or climbing.

2. Fall forward. Don't push, fall. If your core is engaged and you are leaning forward from the ankles, the only time you need any tension in your legs is when you are physically catching yourself from falling. You are then supporting yourself forward in a controlled fall rather than leaping from foot to foot.

3. Engage your core. As you fall and one leg goes behind you, a tight core will use
the natural elasticity of your thigh muscles to bounce that leg forward. You won't have to pull as hard.

4. Did I say relax? If all of these tips are creating a maelstrom of impossible to coordinate feedback and confusion, just relax everything you possibly can. I love technical tips and anatomy so this stuff is fun for me to experiment with. If it isn't helping, ignore all of it and relax.

When I say this I'm really talking about the interplay between your motivations to do this, your internal dialogue while doing it, and your support activity when you're not doing it.

1. Your motivation for an activity obviously plays a significant role in your attitudes around it. I submit that you should make your best effort to be motivated by finding ways to enjoy it more. Not only will this lead you to actually finding those ways, it will occupy your mind with a positive goal. Finding them takes me back to one of my first posts here: do you like gadgets? Get some. Do you like company? Run with a group.

2. Internal dialogue while running can totally empower you or demotivate your butt
back to the couch. If you're looking for ideas I suggest you read the fruitarian's race report from a 100 mile race. It is LONG, but it gives you some insight into what people struggle with. Surprise, it's exactly what YOU struggle with, he just has some great strategies in place before he sets foot on a course. Do the same. Develop mantras to get you past tough spots. We all have them and overcoming them is what reinforces your determination.

3. Support activity = things you do to take care of yourself so you are ready for your next run. Stretching, rolling, massage, icing, recovering, eating well, sleeping, etc. Make sure that you don't go for runs that are guaranteed to suck unless you want to. Sometimes this is rewarding. You get determined, you run even though you haven't had any sleep, and you complete! Excellent. Other times, you had some wine last night and you go out for a run tired, it's a terrible run and it demotivates you for next time. If you are going to be discouraged by this kind of run, either don't drink the wine or don't do the run. That's all about you knowing yourself well enough to do some internal management.

Hope these help.
Good running!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Household tools for getting back on your feet

So I'm going to pitch Scott Hadley again at the Hadley Clinic. He taught me how to fix my pain with a rolling pin and a baseball. This when I was starting to think I was out of luck for the moment.

Scott's rolling pin/baseball technique:

1. Roll your quads with the pin, all around the top and outside of your thigh.
2. Get your calves on top of the pin and roll them putting as much weight as you can bear.
3. Put your hand on the side of your hip and find the boney process there that is the top of your femur. Sit on the baseball and roll all around that process, getting most of your butt and the area in front of that boney process.
4. Stand up and roll the bottoms of your feet.

Do this 3 times per day and especially before and after runs. All of them hurt, at least at first. Then they help. Having done this 3 times a day for less than a week now, my foot pain is gone, I'm running again with no trouble, off the anti-inflammatory. A most excellent development!

I'm always happy to find a fix it yourself solution. The above appears to be helping my little brother with his IT band pain as well.

I'm off for a run!
Thanks Scott!

Three exclamation points in one post. Make it 4!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Barefoot McGee's 3 fancy ways to make running easier.

Ok, now that I'm running again, and I know my injury wasn't caused by my being barefoot (I was beginning to wonder), I can get back up on my high horse about it. My horse isn't really that high. I don't tell other people how to do things...much. I've had a cathartic experience with barefoot running, it has changed the way I relate to the activity, and the habit of running itself has had some pretty significant repercussions in my life.

When I'm running regularly I am energized and my mind is clear. When I need to run I go to bed early, eat well, take care of myself. When I do these things I'm more patient with my kids and with challenges and I have better perspective. These statements broadly apply to exercise for most people but I think that running is unique because it doesn't require any equipment or preparation. Barefoot running feels like an immersive step further in the direction of simplification, stripping away the things that separate me from the experience.

Dictionary dot come definition of immersive: (of a computer display or system) Generating a three-dimensional image that appears to surround the user

The less I have on me the more I am enveloped in the activity. It's funny that in a media overdosed world I'm using 3D display lingo to describe taking clothes off and running around mostly naked, but it's apt because I seek a more complete experience, and total lack of distraction from the things my body is doing to keep me moving. Rather than distracting myself from it because it's effort, I'm going for total commitment to find pleasure. This is the only way for me to keep it up. I try this with everything I do because I'm not able to keep doing things I don't like. Call it lazy but there's an easier way to do anything, and a way to enjoy it.

A great Kinesiology concept to bring to bear here is one I used for movement analysis. When running, your body is moving forward in what's called the saggital plane (the 2D geometric plane that divides your body into left and right portions, and includes motion from front to back). In order to use your energy effectively all motion of your body should take place in this plane. Nothing should be going side to side or up and down. There will be some twisting going on and that's necessary. Arms are a great example. They can be bent at the elbow tight to your body and moving quickly forward and back, or they can be wide open at the elbow out to your sides and swinging all over the place.

Stand up and try the two. If you just open your arms up and try to swing them back and forth, they create twisting in your trunk and require more work from the shoulders to control. Tight at the elbow, forward and back, you can be almost completely relaxed and move them this way. Good running form is the process of finding every inefficiency like that and eliminating it.

1. Loose loose loose:
Most common areas of tightness, wasted energy, and eventual pain while or after running: shoulders, jaw, hands, feet. A track and field guy once told me to pretend I was holding a potato chip between finger and thumb to keep from clenching. I'd go a step further and say that the only muscles that should be tight at any time are the ones that are working at that moment. Everything else should be flapping around as loose as possible.

-While you're running take an inventory of your body one part at a time. Start from the head and make sure that as you travel down, nothing is tense when it's not working to move you forward. Jaw loose, shoulders relaxed, etc. When you get to the bottom start over, then have a look around.

2. Lean forward:
Stand up, lean forward from your ankles, lean back, then lean forward again until you start to fall forward. This is running. It's not pushing with your quads, jumping, springing off your toes, it's falling forward and catching yourself. Gravity will help you run if you let it. Keep your spine nice and straight and lean from the ankles. Don't fight the ground to move forward.

3. Don't bounce!
Your head should remain level while you're running. If it's going up and down you are wasting your energy. Bend your knees a bit more, see tips 1 and 2, and stop that bobbing. Move forward.

Good running and good living!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

It doesn't matter what you do, it matters who you are

That's my latest one liner of life instruction for my kids. Another one I use: "There is no try, there is only do!" Yoda philosopher king. "A human that never quits is never defeated." I think that's Fred Thompson.

It's interesting to try and distill life into manageable pieces of instruction for minds whose attention span is measured in single digit seconds. A long lecture about respect and hitting produces that expression that clearly communicates that your child's mind is on space, feathers, running, magic, roll around, favorite song...and your important lecture is not in that list.

I just read an article about parenting and the conclusion of many recent studies shows that what parents do for children is less important than who they are. All the flash cards in the world won't help if you are stressed out and distracted. Another study tried to find correlations in childhood circumstances, to those who had attained their PhDs. What did they find? The only strong correlation was that almost every single adult PhD said they had eaten dinner with their families most nights as children.

When running, who you are matters very much. If you allow yourself to focus on pain, discomfort, or even if you just try to convince yourself to do it because you should, it will be unpleasant. You have that person in you that is able to bring a peaceful and attentive approach to even the most unpleasant activities. You know, the one who is able to take a deep breath and spend some time in the moment with your kids, or with yourself, even though it may mean an interruption in your very important plans for the day. That moment where you relinquish control and discover what the moment has in store for you is your running savior.

It's the ability to let go. I ran today and had to do it slowly for a few miles to make sure my foot wasn't going to act up. It didn't but I had to be pretty attentive to my form and to stay slow. I'm running the Grand Rapids Barefoot 5k next weekend and one part of me just wanted to go faster. "How are you going to win at this speed?" Thanks voice. How am I going to run with a bloody stump for a foot?

Let go, just run. Let go, just be a kind dad. Listen don't talk. Ask questions don't give answers. Shut up in there and let life happen a bit. Hammer parenting never produced healthy kids and hammer running is what produced a jacked up foot.

Good running and good living!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Podiatrist: 0 , Veterinarian + Awesome PT: 10

I'm running tomorrow. My podiatrist put a cm thick layer of tape on my foot and told me to come back when I was ready for a shot of cotisone. He told me my form wasn't really an issue and that I probably wasn't built for running. That didn’t help much. I’m going to run.

My awesome vet/distiller friend told me to take anti-inflammatories and use ice (and drink grappa). That was helping. I saw a Physical Therapist yesterday at a workshop that he generously held for free. He poked around, as PTs will, gave me some techniques with a rolling pin to help fix my problem, ground on my calves until I was practically crying, gave a group of us a thoroughly pleasant and helpful time...and I'm getting better faster. His name is Scott Hadley, he’s in Grand Rapids, he’s kind and really knowledgeable.

The causes of injuries can be difficult to track down. I’ll bet if you spend a few minutes online trying to figure out why people get IT band syndrome or plantar fasciitis, you’ll find 10 different explanations. When I was studying Kinesology the answers always had to do with vertical stacking of bones. They talked about hips that are too wide, leg bones being different lengths, foot arches collapsing, and everything had to do with bodies that weren’t put together correctly. Not helpful, bodies are generally put together quite well but we tend to misuse them.

In my experience most athletic injuries are caused by the way we use our bodies: things that are tight, things we aren’t aware of like posture, etc. When I first started running I had some problems that I tracked down to my gait, which was lopsided. Not lopsided like one of my bones was 2” longer than the other, lopsided like I grew up in Chicago and spent much of my youth cultivating a strut. I figured it out by walking toward myself in the mirror and thinking: “If I run the way I walk I’m going to need a hip replaced soon”.

My point is that sometimes habitual movement patterns are so ingrained that we don’t notice them enough to question them. Something as repetitive as running requires balance and fluidity or some muscle is going to get tired, cause some other muscle to take some of its stress, causing problems that radiate outward from the overused muscle or muscle group. Just because your lower back hurts doesn't mean your lower back is where the problem started. I had many a conversation as a trainer about computer posture and how quickly it can lead to injury in the gym. Lift with your legs is just not possible when your head is sticking 3” out in front of you.

Things that have helped me with posture and balance:

1. Tai Chi is one of the best ways I’ve ever found to develop balanced posture. It will get your head floating on the end of your spine like a balloon on a string. What’s more, all you have to do is find a group in a park somewhere. They’re always happy to have you.

2. Alexander Technique was developed to relieve stress on the vocal cords of actors and singers by promoting good posture and fluid movement. It is one of the strangest styles of body work I’ve ever tried but really amazing and effective.

3. My own trick: Face the mirror. Put your middle and index fingers on the boney bumps that stick out right behind your ears (mastoid process). Put your thumbs under your cheek bones. Make sure that the bottoms of those two boney processes are level with the floor. Take some deep breaths and gently push up toward the ceiling focusing on lengthening the back of your neck, and your entire spine. Do this for a few minutes then go about your life, trying to maintain that vertical sensation.

Good Running!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Running: 2 things that help, 2 things that don't

I'm trying to describe how running feels in my head. Is it falling forward with legs catching you, is it bouncing from foot to foot, is it struggling to keep moving while lazy and grumpy thoughts tempt me to immediately stop and head home? Most of the time these days it's much more pleasant than that last one, although I've been there for sure.

On my best days it feels a more like a great energizing walk. I rarely hit a wall and mostly kind of drift along. I've been given a lot of advice from trainers, runners, ultra-athletes, even some of my clients. I had a client who sat down with me before we ever started training in a consultation, a bit over weight, clearly out of shape and told me he just wanted to get back into shape, lose a little of that weight. He seemed to me to be like many other middle aged guys who hadn't worked out since college until I asked him about his exercise history.

It went something like this: Oh well, I guess um, I've worked out a bit. Well, once I swam across the English channel, then I did it again, then I ran some marathons and did a couple of iron men races. I stopped after this Badwater thing. For those of you that don't know, that's 135 miles through Death Valley while climbing a bit over 8,000ft. I told him he had the wrong trainer as I wasn't nearly equipped to handle that. We ended up working together for a year or so. It was a great time, he was an excellent client, and we inspired each other in the realms of exercise and fatherhood. Hey Steve!

When I asked him for advice on such things he said: You just have to be stubborn enough to outlast the lazy. To me that works really well on a longer timeline. You really have to be stubborn enough to get into good enough shape that what you're doing becomes easy. Your body is really good at making things easy if you give it enough time and are consistent. That is fundamentally your body's primary job. Adjusting to any stress so that the stress requires less energy expenditure to cope with. The stress here is running and your body will align muscles, metabolic processes and just about everything but your thoughts. You'll have to manage those yourself.

Things that work for me:
1. Be stubborn or patient, whichever feels like the right descriptor for you
2. Observe debilitating thoughts with humor.
-My mom used to describe self doubt and self defeating thoughts as the inner
protector trying to save you from suffering through failure. The only effective
way I have found for coping with that devil is through humor. Quitting doesn't
make for a very effective moral booster after all. Misguided, fearful, inner
quitter, will you ever learn?

Things that don't:
1. Find a landmark and run to it. Repeat in your head: If I can make it to that landmark I can make it to the next one.
-This kind of goal setting is so short term it makes your run a series of
struggles rather than building a larger more inspiring context. I'm big on
context and always try to build one for any project, whether it's a new whiskey,
a new business, a new poem, or a new fitness goal. Doing this gives you
something to refer back to when you are contemplating stopping or sleeping in.
Many people do this by signing up for races to challenge themselves, and/or
raising money for charities through these races. The larger goal and the benefit
to others will inspire you.
2. Just fight it out
-That is just not me. I can dog through some tough stuff, but I'd much rather
find a small pleasure in the moment. Even when you're in pain there's something
to love nearby. It might be a tree, give it a hug. It might be a beautiful day,
or someone near you. I always look for a pleasure rather than fighting a pain.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Brief moments of clarity

So last week I bumped into my first co-barefooter on the street while running. I've joined groups online, written articles, even put out a Craig's add at one point looking for anyone in the area that might want to run together barefoot without much success, and then running along on a Wed afternoon there's this weird guy running toward me with no shirt on, looking shaggy and a big like a vagabond. I squinted and wondered if I was imagining things then looked shirt, no shoes, a bit shaggy. Ok, if I owned a restaurant I would send me home with no dinner. Thanks for being out there Luke! Can't wait to get some runs in with you!

That was my last run as I've been nursing my foot back to health. My injury is largely about too many bizarre races in too short a time. My new podiatrist told me it was because I was running up too many muddy hills and aggravated the tissue on the bottom of my foot, plantar fasciitis. I've never had a podiatrist before, but then I've never really made a habit of running 40-50 miles a week before either. The plan is to get to the point where a 30-40 mile run isn't a big deal.

I've spoken to people who do this and believe it or not they're the same as the ones you've met who have started cool and interesting companies, written beautiful pieces of music, become amazing artists late in life, gone on trips that make you jealous because they weren't expensive or planned, said something to you casually in an off moment that gave you sense of meaning and made you wonder if you actually knew this person, dropped everything they had of seeming value for something of obvious value, and basically anyone you've spent time with that seemed to be drawing you deeper into something important. They were like physical philosophers. They were expressing inner meaning in the best way they could.

Planning for a 50 or 100 mile run and hearing peoples' reactions to the idea reminds me of an old friend. When he died I tried writing a song about it and recording it, but I could never find a way to make the song resonate deeply enough to do the job. I also tried writing words about it but I never found a way to express it well. When I'm running I talk to him. His sense of humor about something so ridiculous as a 40 mile run, or 10 miles through mud, ice water and electricity, brings me close to him and connects me to the humor about life we shared, it really seems like the perfect dedication.

If I were to run from Detroit to Chicago it would take me 67 hours at my current looong slooow distance pace. I hope to make this run one day and I hope that the voice of my old philosopher maniac friend will goad me on with its laughter and brilliant perspective. I hope that doing something a little ridiculous like running barefoot for 10 or 260 miles will always help me connect to the man who taught me to do what feels right no matter how nuts.

Love you Paul

Monday, August 15, 2011

Shoes, shoes, water and war

I'm delayed in Stewart International Airport, working on a business plan, watching this storm that delayed me for the last 4 hours and is threatening to keep me here another night. Good time to write.

I used to wear regular running shoes, back in the days when I really hated running. Now I spend too much money on shoes whose point of pride is doing as little as possible to help you do anything, other than by staying out of your way. That means: no built up heal with springey air pocketey bouncey bounce technology. No micro chip adaptive shoe floor that senses how old you are and whether your hormones are in balance. In fact that means that these shoes are really just expensive strips of thin rubber that keeps the rocks from scraping up my feet.

Examples: Merrill, New Balance, VFF and the most minimal I've used..the actual ninja sock

When I was a personal trainer doing gait assessments on clients I would often put them on a treadmill without shoes to see how they moved. I told them it was too bad they couldn't run barefoot as impact is too high and they'd beat up their joints. Ironically I'm now doing what I told them not to because I think the shoes are the ones causing the impact by promoting a stride that is heavy on the impact. It's not impossible to run with good form in regular running shoes but they do tend to promote heal strike running. They elevate the heal, forcing you forward and they pad your heal so you don't feel the road or the impact from your stride.

It really helps to feel the road and it really really helps to feel the full impact of what you are doing. From the second you take your shoes off, or put on a minimal shoe your body will immediately change the way it interacts with the ground. Your instinctual response will be to shorten your stride, land flatter on your feet keeping them under you, and contact the ground more gently. It feels strange and can seem like it's more work at first but after a little getting used to most people I've worked with on this say that they have more energy to spare, and it gives them more fluidity.

Sun Tzu says: "Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows..." Of course he's talking about ways to win wars, but I think we can draw a similar analogy when considering the body in motion. We're talking about the path of least resistance and your body can only adapt to the environment if it can feel it.

Well, I guess I'll flow over the the counter and see if my path home is still encountering resistance.

Magic horse pills and expensive grappa

I don't even have any pets...but I do have a really good friend who is a vet and I take his advice on injuries. He's also a fellow distiller who worked on racing horses all over the world and in his words: "an injury is an injury is an injury". Also in his words: "If your foot hurts let's go drink some grappa, you can run next week". Thanks Monte!

I want to run this week so what he gave me is ibuprofen, a lot of it. It is working and my plantar fasciitis is clearing up. Ibuprofen works by inhibiting enzymes in soft tissue that cause inflammation. Healing happens much more slowly when inflammation is present. When you get your first plantar fasciitis a doctor will tell you to get some kind of shot. Sometimes it's steroid shots to reduce inflammation, sometimes it's cortisone to stop pain and reduce swelling. I don't know much about steroid injections but I'll say that the last thing you want is to remove the pain and go exercise. With a soft tissue inflammation that just means re-injury and if you keep that up, scar tissue. Scar tissue is tough and will hold up under stress but one thing it is not is elastic. All of the elasticity of your soft tissue is gone and that brittle scar tissue will tear under stress.

My foot feels better and I'm hoping I can get out for a run on Sat. My schedule has me doing 18 miles. I'm thinking I won't get into that but at least half of it if things go well. In the meantime I had some pretty damn good grappa and bourbon this weekend, the last straight from a barrel via a mare unused one. If I can't run at least my job offers some perks to make up for it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Freedom and stepping on nails

So to start off with I've never stepped on a nail, thank goodness. My feet are pretty tough since I've been spending so much time without shoes but they certainly wouldn't withstand that.

One of the things that is really difficult for me to manage with my kids has to do with freedom. They are completely free and out of control with their bodies. On the one hand this means that they dance and wave their arms about, they jump and bounce, they laugh and scream...on the other hand this means that every single glass of water you pour for them is about to get knocked in your lap.

I try to teach them to get some of that energy under control. I don't want to take 4 clothed baths a day and the number of clean ups I am capable of is limited before I just turn into a cranky ass dad. So part of my job is to teach them to control their bodies. But the problem is that the more in control they are, the more they lose that spontaneity. The more they suppress that exuberance, the more they lose their wild freedom, and the more I feel like I'm taming them. I don't want to take that away from them but I do want them to stop breaking our glasses. I don't really remember being told to get under control, but I sure remember the look on my dad's face when I cartwheeled into the coffee table and knocked it over.

Running is me reverse engineering my own internal control. I'm recapturing the feeling...just before hitting the table, but it took removing my shoes to get me there. In large part this has to do with the natural shift in my running form that came from taking them off or running in very minimal shoes, but another part of it is doing something a little bit ridiculous and wild. The feeling is central to the experience and I wouldn't be signing up for races and running all over East Lansing if it didn't feel good. I'm channeling my babies' wildness.

None of us has stepped on any nails yet. I've seen them hurt themselves with their unruly ways, and I'm sure I'll cut my feet up at some point but I don't really mind that. The freedom is worth the price.

Monday, August 8, 2011

This is just the best!

Soft tissue, injury and toilet paper.

When I think of soft tissue I think of my Polish uncle in-law complaining that the toilet paper in the US was too soft. The stuff he was used to was like brown paper bag...anyway.

A quick lecture on soft tissue. Damage to soft tissue can be a nagging impediment that takes a long time to go away. The fastest healing soft tissue you've got is actually muscle. The problem arises when one of the other tissues gets damaged: tendon, ligament, fascia, as these can take much longer to heal. An interesting factoid that puts these into perspective is that the three I just mentioned are continuous.

If anyone is familiar with Rolfing or fascial manipulation (extremely painful but effective body work) this will sound familiar. The fascial sheathe is a continuous soft tissue layer that wraps each individual muscle fiber lending it support, wraps whole muscles, and continues on to become tendons (attaching muscles to bone), wraps around the bones and is continuous with ligaments (connecting bones at joints). Rolfers would say that this tissue also wraps the organs and can also affect organ function when damaged, knotted, or too tight. This fascial layer is described as being comparable to your skin in that it is a continuous sheathe that is present throughout your entire body. This means that a soft tissue injury can be very local but can lead to damage in remote tissues, or cause pain in areas seemingly unrelated. Your physical therapist who digs her knuckles into a muscle or the bottom of your foot and slowly slides it against your skin, while pressing hard into the tissue is doing fascial manipulation.

I think runners are particularly susceptible to discomfort from this tissue layer. I.T. band problems are a great example of issues arising from fascial tissue that can affect your entire training regime. The IT band is continuous with the fascia that wraps your quads (the big giant muscles on the front of your thigh). If your quads didn't have a tough wrapping around the entire muscle group, they would deform completely when you contracted them (think inch worm) and they wouldn't do a very good job of straightening your knee. The IT band down the side of your leg is part of the wrapping that maintains their shape, making them effective, but putting tremendous stress on the band, and often leading to problems.

Tools of the trade:
  • Foam rollers are super effective. Proper use of the roller involves putting your weight into the roller and finding places that hurt...then staying there and allowing the roller to contact and slowly penetrate the tissue. This is fascial manipulation: finding knots in fascial tissue and releasing them. It hurts...a lot, but it works.
    • Do this everywhere on your body, even places that don't hurt
  • Stretching of course. Making sure muscle groups like hamstrings aren't too tight will keep them from tugging on fascial and skeletal tissue that extends out systematically through your entire body. Tight hamstrings cause lower back and neck pain because their influence extends beyond the hips and knees.
  • Epsom salt/ice baths. I love ice baths. They constrict the circulatory vessels. As you warm up fresh blood and nutrients flush the tissue helping rejuvenate it. They also alleviate normal inflammation from stress (exercise), and they feel awesome...after the overwhelming painful stinging sensation goes away and you go numb. Epsom salts can help too.
Hope this helps. I'm going to be doing a lot of the above to get my foot back into shape.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Great advice for...damn my foot hurts too much

What to do about injury? My right foot has been aching for a week or two and I've been taking it easy on the shorter runs but forcing my way through longer know run through the pain style. Today that didn't work out so well. I went for a 12 mile and had to lay off at mile 7 and walk home.

It's a delicate line to walk between run through it and let it heal. I think I just fell off the wrong end. What to do?

  • The best temperature therapy ever: Ice water 20min, warm water 20min and repeat 4-5 times.
  • STRETCH: I'm am continually surprised at how helpful this is and how many of my "injuries" turn out to be aggravations of tissues caused by muscles  somewhere nearby that I've been abusing and not stretching adequately.
  • Amateur orthopedic assessment tool: Flex the injured area in all directions against resistance from your hand. If you encounter sharp pain from this it could be soft tissue damage. Tap on all of the bones in the area. If there's a fracture of some kind you'll feel it. 
    • Example: If it's your foot: flex up, point toe, twist around the ankle in each direction, same for toe joints, all against hand resistance. Grab your foot on either side and pull one side up the other down moving the metatarsals in a twisting motion. Tap on all of the bones you can contact.
Mine feels like soft tissue damage in some tissue on the bottom of my foot maybe from extremely tight calf muscles.

Oh and if you have a nagging injury or pain that you can't seem to figure out, post here describing it. I've got a great orthopedic assessment book from my days as a trainer. I'll see if I can find some tests in there to help you figure it out.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

5 Tips for making running easier and avoiding pain

Here are 5 things I've tried that have made a serious difference in my long and short runs.

1. Take more steps
I mean this very literally. If you are going from point a to b and your normal stride will get you there in 3 steps, try 4 or 5. Shortening your stride will do a number of things. It will keep you from reaching forward with your lead leg and heal striking. Without citing a bunch of stuff about impact on the calcaneous and skeletal system, basically what this does is make your gait more fluid. Your heel out front means breaking action and that's the last thing you want. Shorter stride also encourages you to land on your mid-foot which reduces impact by putting you on top of your feet instead of behind them.

2. Be as tall as you can
One of the biggest complaints from runners as they increase distance is upper body pain. Some of this is the runner equivalent of computer posture and is often a hunching or tightening-up issue. Stand up, grab your head from both sides and gently pull straight up. Feel the elevation and stretch all the way down your spine and try to keep that elevated sensation when you are running and you'll reduce the amount of work your upper body is doing.

3. Run as quietly as you can
Your feet and calves should be as relaxed as you can make them. Feet slapping or slamming down means impact. Tightening up in the lower leg is a huge waste of energy and will lead to taught muscles that injure easily and recover slowly. One way to help with this is to make your landings as quiet as you possibly can. In order to do this you have to use the muscles of your upper legs to absorb landing shock and keep your impact to a minimum.

4. Think fluid thoughts
Ok, new age alert, all cynics please skip ahead. I would say the most common problem I came across as a trainer was people who spent their entire workout or run thinking about how hard everything is. Just like the smile and smile some more tip from yesterday, if you're thinking words like: fluid, gentle, and graceful you will be those things. The harder your thoughts the harder your life will be. Give yourself a break and make things easier. Tell yourself you love running and it is fluid and joyful. It helps a lot even if you don't believe it at first. You get to have a self fulfilling prophecy you'll appreciate.

5. Say hello to everyone you pass
Be the nicest person on the street and make other people smile. That really will make your run a pleasure. Make a habit of saying hello to everyone you pass and I swear they will magically fuel you with their surprise and delight. I'm telling you, the nicer you are the better you will feel and the more fun your run will be. These last two tips are great ways to make anything you do more pleasurable as they give you ways of interrupting debilitating thought patterns.

Hope these help. These are 5 of the many things I try to keep in mind when I set out to run. Whenever I find myself feeling run down, I check back in with my physical form first: move feet faster, get taller, get quieter, then move on to my internal form: think fluid and joyful, friendly up and find someone to smile at.
Good running!

Running, training and the rest of your life

So as I've said running started out for me as a misguided attempt to improve myself by force. I thought if I could make myself do something I disliked it would lead me toward my goal of being a disciplined person. Unfortunately or fortunately for me the opposite happened and I found love in the thing I was forcing myself to do. It's partly a function of working really hard on form and gait, changing my footwear etc, but more than that I think it's about embracing something difficult by appealing to a gentler approach. Rather than beating myself into submission, I just kept trying things until I found something that felt really good and free. For me that was taking my shoes off, running really slowly and letting my kids laugh at me for having no shoes on. They were the only other people on the street without shoes after all.

My wife home-schools the kids and one of the books we read together talked specifically about chores. It said that one of the most important things your kids can see is a loving approach to things that are normally treated as annoyances. This means the kids need to see a loving approach to washing dishes. That's a difficult thing to do but when you get it right everyone appreciates it. I see this in the barefoot running community. They are not the ones with deep furrows in their foreheads at every race, chugging along despite the agony. Generally they are the ones smiling and laughing at themselves along with the rest of the crowd. This really appeals to me as that deep furrow is what drove me from running for most of my life.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that there is a gentle and loving way to do anything. To my mind running and exercising in general ought to be treated as a therapeutic outlet rather than a punishment for all of the twinkies you've eaten in your life. I recently advised a friend of mine, who isn't in the best shape, to stop trying to push his speed faster on the treadmill. I gave him the conversational pace rule: if you can't chat with your neighbor you're going too fast. He discovered that running this way made him feel better after his run not drained.

My advice is this:

1. If it sucks...go slower and slow down until it doesn't. If that means you become a boy scout pace run/walker fine, but you won't keep doing it if it feels awful.
2. Know thyself shall be the whole of the law. Figure out the approach that will lead you toward enjoyment. Do you love gadgets? Do you love company? Do you love solitude? Fulfill those desires.
3. Smile the whole time. Even if you have to force it, smile and smile some more. Other people will reinforce it for you by smiling back

Let me know what you think.

...and check out Jason Robilard's article on a related topic:


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Barefoot marathon training

Saturday I ran 14 miles barefoot. the beginning of this run was really a pleasure but by the end I was wishing I had something to put on my feet. I am often subject to my own pushy desire to do more now, sometimes more than I'm ready for. This is a hallmark of the pushy now now desire to achieve that has served me well in some circumstances and not in others. Today my left foot's a little achy but nothing a little ice water won't take care of.

I've read quite a bit about TMTF (too much too fast) in transitioning but fell victim to it regardless of good advice. One of my worst experiences with this landed me in the middle of a forest sitting in a creek with my shorts off, but that's a story I'll tell after you've put a couple of beers in me. Suffice it to say that whether you've decided to get in shape and are just starting running, or are in good shape and are transitioning to a new style of fitness...take your time.
Anyone can do this stuff, bodies are built for it. It's just a matter of figuring out where to start and what your final goal is.

If you're having a good time getting there, does it really matter how long it takes?

Mudder video